Bryan Caplan  

Why Don't Hispanics Beg in America?

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How often has an Hispanic asked you for spare change? I've lived around LA, San Francisco, NYC, and DC, all of which have lots of Hispanics and lots of beggars. But as far as I can remember, I've never encountered an Hispanic beggar in America. Your experience may not be as stark as mine, but it's hard to deny that Hispanics are grossly underrepresented in this "occupation," despite their below-average income.

What gives? Both demand- and supply-side explanations suggest themselves.

On the demand side, I suspect that Americans are less willing to give money to Hispanic beggars because they see them as "foreigners."

On the supply side, I suspect that Hispanics are unusually likely to see begging as shameful, and unusually willing to do unpleasant jobs for what Americans see as low wages. The strength of Hispanic family ties also plausibly plays a role.

Am I on the right track? Have I missed something important? Please let me know, especially if you actually are Hispanic...


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COMMENTS (30 to date)
How often has an Hispanic asked you for spare change?

Three times, all in New Orleans less than six months after hurricane Katrina. When discussing it with locals they mentioned that they had stopped giving because there was no excuse to not have a job anymore.

Matt writes:

I don't think I have an answer for you. But it is funny that I was just in DC this past week and thought the exact same thing to myself. The first thing that came to my mind as a reason was your supply side explanation. Other than that, I have nothing to say.

caveat bettor writes:

I see panhandling weekly in NYC. Primarily male, but several females, too. Mostly blacks and whites. In fact, the few thousand I've encountered in the last 20 years do not include Asian or Mediterranean ethnic affects.

HispanicPundit writes:

It's probably a mixture of self selection and culture.

The immigrants that come to the United States come primarily to work so you are dealing with a group that has a higher work ethic than the average Hispanic. This higher than average work ethic would also be passed down to the next generations.

Then there is the cultural aspect. Even in Mexico, with significantly higher poverty rates, full out begging is looked down upon. While there are many people asking you for money they often do so by either selling you something (gum, necklaces, etc) or performing some act(clean your shoes, wash your windows, juggling fire sticks - you see this at intersections).

You add these two factors with what you mentioned above and what results is a significantly less than average rate of begging. IMHO.

Unit writes:

Bryan,

Is it possible to use Bastiat's analysis of the "broken windows" fallacy in the context of the Malthusian Trap? After all both sophisms end up saying that disaster and destruction is a good thing.

shecky writes:

I've lived in L.A. most of my life, and I can't recall seeing many Hispanics begging. I'm sure it happens, but my observation is that they are vastly outnumbered by supposed Vietnam vets. Instead, Hispanics are MUCH more likely to be seen selling oranges or flowers in the usual begging spots. Even in Mexico, it seems the few beggars were very small children or very elderly folks.

greenpagan writes:

Ever been to Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America? Beggars are everywhere.

Furthermore, in the States Hispanics are hardly going to go to an Anglo on the street first for help. You first go to "your own".

BTW--I lived for many years in San Francisco too and NYC is my hometown.

Walt O'Brien writes:

Thank you for the supposed Viet Nam vets heads-up, Schecky. I AM one, and we do NOT beg, either. If someone hits on you for spare change and says they are a Viet Nam vet, ask to see their DD 214. If they go "Huh?," do anything you like but don't give them money. Even in shelters, veterans of any era are typically the most meticulously well-groomed and straight-standing of the lot: most in shelters are there as divorcees to make child support on schedule while working at substandard wages and not end up in the pokey for 30 to 90 days.

It's pride. Most Hispanics refuse to compromise their dignity under any circumstances.

steve writes:

Yeah I agree. I have lived in So Cal, and South Texas my whole life, and I confirm your intuition/observation.

I guess we get all of the "hard working" Hispanics. Immigration is a weeding out process, I guess. Which is one reason I think crime rates among immigrants is also low.

AA writes:

I think you are suffering from availability bias. I lived in the San Francisco bay area for many years, and Hispanics asked me for money nearly everyday.

Timothy writes:

I get hit up for change fairly often in downtown San Antonio. By what I'd guess is a representative sample of the population: hispanics, whites, blacks. Not that my casual observations are data, but I'd say it's probably mostly hispanics followed by whites and blacks, with maybe a few more blacks than whites, but that's likely due to being downtown. In other parts of the city I probably see more white beggars than black beggars.

I don't think that really speaks to anything of consequence other than that any population is going to have some beggars and that the majority of beggars will come from the largest population segment, which in San Antonio is clearly hispanic.

Horatio writes:

I am an American Hispanic, originally from the Bronx and my own experience confirms your observations. I rarely saw any Hispanic beggars in NYC, but plenty of whites and blacks. However, we should look at the prevalence of Hispanic purse snatchers before we assume all these poor Hispanics are out selling oranges instead. Latin America is full of beggars, but most are children and most are outnumbered by those trying to sell things or provide a service. Children will often run up to people coming out of nice (relatively speaking) cars and offer to watch their car for a price while they shop, eat, etc.

BT writes:

I have lived in Texas for 12 years and concur. I regularly visit Dallas, Houston and Austin and rarely notice Hispanic beggars. I would also add Asians to the list. Very interesting question Bryan.

Dagwood writes:

The reason you don't see Hispanic's begging is that the most downtrodden Hispanics know they can turn to the Catholic Church. That's what I see at my parish anyway.

Michael writes:

I made a visit to Guatemala late last year and was quite stunned at the lack of begging. I was there for a few weeks and only one wretched boy with Down's syndrome approached the group I was with begging. You do see a lot of street vendors trying to make a living.

Federico writes:

I'm Hispanic living in Dominican Republic, but educated in the US. Begging includes a transaction cost between pride, need and options.
On the supply side close knitted relations in the Hispanic community makes finding a job (even a quasi-job) more accessible within the already existing Hispanic business community.
On the demand side, I don’t see a WASP giving change to a Hispanic unless the latter holds a knife in one hand and a hat in the other.
On the transaction cost, the initiative and investment it takes to immigrate (legally or otherwise) to the US does not profile begging as an option.
In the Dominican Republic, where we have common border with Haiti with a huge per capita income difference (US$3,300 vs US$340) almost 100% of the beggars are Haitian woman and children, which is a supplementary income to males in the construction or agro business.

Matt C writes:

I have not seen many hispanic beggars in the U.S., if any.

When I visited Mexico, the border towns were full of kids making a nuisance of themselves. Technically they were selling cheap stuff like gum, but the real product being sold was "if you give me a dollar I'll quit pestering you".

Farther in, I sometimes saw adult women begging, sitting quietly by a thoroughfare with a bowl, occasionally accompanied by a kid or two. Never saw any adult males begging that I can recall.

Bob Knaus writes:

Begging is cultural.

When I lived at the Dinner Key Marina just south of downtown Miami, there were plenty of panhandlers at the dock. Ethnically they were mixed white, black, and Hispanic. All were alcoholics. For whatever reason, the local culture encouraged that behavior.

The Bahamas is about 85% black, and has plenty of alcoholics. But panhandling, at least in the Out Islands, is almost unheard of. So that would seem to say that the stereotype of black alcoholics being panhandlers does not apply to the culture of the Bahamas. I cannot speak for Nassau or Freeport, it may be different there.

Ray G writes:

Lots of Hispanic beggars in Phoenix AZ.

And if you walk across at any of the usual border towns, you'll have more Hispanic beggars than you'll know what to do with.

Maybe you're seeing Hispanics that are not obviously Hispanic and mistaking them for something else?

And the hordes of beggars in Mexico and Latin America completely throws out the idea of a cultural barrier to the practice.

Lauren writes:

I agree with Bryan in that I have seen few Hispanic beggars. A huge factor playing on the supply side was mentioned earlier by Federico. As most Hispanics leave their country of origin to migrate to the US in order to provide better living conditions and an overall better standard of living begging poses no plausible option. The immigrant has most likely used most, if not all, savings and funds available in order to make it to the US - this alone shows drive and determination. Upon arriving in the states the individual is most likely going to find a job that pays close to minimum wage - forcing the individual to work long hours or even to get a second job. Leaving little time to spend begging on the streets; also the likely hood of them using their their valuable free time to beg is slim. Addtionally these individuals have come from a background where you work to get what you want - begging is most likely a disgusting concept to those who have worked most of their lives to make it here. I believe that the absence of Hispanic beggars stems mostly from their pride and work ethic. Wouldn't you have pride if you escaped a poverty ridden country and wouldn't you work to maintain your new home?

mike writes:

You want to see Hispanic beggars? Go to Mexico, Central America, South America. There are plenty - I've seen them with my own eyes in at least 3 or 4 countries.

It's the same reason you don't see many Asian beggars in America - because the population that immigrate and become Americans are a group of self-selected hard workers.

As the generations wear on and the work ethic diminishes, or the familial ties disappear, you get beggars - hence, black and white beggars in America for the most part.

Selection bias!

Michael writes:

Mexico is today's largest "labor dumper" that's why we have so many Mexican ILLEGAL ALIENS in America. Mexico's policy is nothing more than "Tito's Broom". If dignity was the reason for their lack of pan-handling, where then, is the dignity in breaking another country's laws by entering it illegally and once there committing social security fraud, identity theft, driving illegally, voting illegally, raping our children, murder, drug dealing. Dignity?

Most everything that's been posted here is regugitated plasitity as far as Hispanic's and pan-handling goes. It appears that stealing and any other form of criminal activity is more prevalent among Hispanic's than is pan-handling. And a higher work ethic? Where's the higher work ethic's when your breaking the laws of another country then sending that country's money back to your family in your country? That's like someone stealing money from your savings account and giving to another member of their family. In this analogy "your savings account" is "your country"! $1.00 paid in America is 70 peso's in Mexico.

Make no mistake about it, there are many good amongst the Hispanic but we must first pay attention to all the harm that could have been prevented if we had the same laws as Mexico does in regards to illegal aliens and immigration. These folks are not here to become Americans. They're here for the American dollar. There is no desire to assimilate. This is true not only for Hispanic's but people from all corners of the world. Becoming an American used to the driving force that brought them to America. Today it's primarily greed. Believe me, I've worked very closely for the past 6 years with people from all over the world. And becoming an American is one of the lowest on their list of reasons for coming to America. Legal or illegal! Becoming a citizen or not!!

Hispanic's and pan-handling? IMO, just another smoke screen topic to mask the real issue's.
A distraction for those already asleep at the wheel. Honk, Honk! Wake up!!

The non-white population in Chicago is very diverse. In particular, there are probably as many Hispanics as blacks. And all the beggars I can remember were black. Moreover, Mexican ghetto neighborhoods are visibly more prosperous than its black counterparts.
I think that the reasons pointed out in your post and the subsequent comments are the most important, but I wanted to add something: the feeling of entitlement (sorry if somebody mentioned this already, I haven't read all the comments).
Many Hispanics were born and/or grew up outside the US, so they don't feel entitled to financial support from the American society. Many blacks, on the other hand, not only are born in the country, for the most part, but still grow up and live in the belief that America has treated them and their ancestors unfairly (which, by the way, is probably true). From that belief, plus the fact that they are American, comes the feeling of entitlement to a favor from society. And perhaps that's why they are more likely to become beggars, which is, essentially, asking for society's support and compassion.
I'm not saying that Hispanics don't believe they are discriminated against, but the feeling is less strong, and they don't believe that they should be compensated for it, because neither them or their parents have lived in America for very long.
We could check this hypothesis by looking at the claim rate for welfare benefits for blacks and Hispanics. One would need to be careful that the sample is truly random and representative, though, and not exclude illegal immigrants.

Carla Smith writes:

This is indeed a very interesting question to bring into discussion. I have also personally never noticed a begger, even being begged by many after living on the west coast as well as the east coast, who was Hispanic. I'm not quite sure what the reason for this is, other than to concur with some other comments above, such as the fact that they are hard workers when they come over here and they do have amazing work ethics. Family is indeed extremely important in their culture, thus the reason for them coming here in the first place to work for more than they make where they come from in order to send that money back home to their remaining family members.

Perhaps it also has to do a bit with pride getting in the way as well because of that emphasis placed on family and with their work ethic being what it is, they wouldn't dare be caught standing on the street begging for money when they could be working hard all day to earn it. Yet there is one ironic question that could be raised from all of this: why do they then beg in their own countries? In my own personal experience whilst in the Dominican Republic and after hearing many stories from my fellow Sailors whilst in the Navy, it seems that whenever foreign Hispanics in their own homelands see we Americans coming their way, they are quick to beg for American dollars or perhaps converted Pesos. However, many times it is their children that they send out to do this "dirty work." Why is this the case, I wonder?

Ibsen Martínez writes:

There is a an old story about a foreigner who, back in the 18 century, visited Mexico City, then the capital city of a large, rich Spanish viceroyalty. He run into a beggar who seemed to him young and healthy enough to go find a job, however menial, and he told him son. The beggar's answer was " I am asking you for a penny, señor. not for advice."
My hint is that Hispanics not begging in America has less to do with "pride and work ethics" ( something which I fiand very debatable) than with American productivity and economic liberties.
Still the question posed by Mr. Caplan, as well as the various hints implied in his readers' postings, stirred so many ideas and feelings in me that I think it deserves a whole book on the subject.

kacie writes:

I believe that hispanic's are very dedicated to their families and firmly believe in hard work. They would never beg, because they know that they could sell oranges at low wages. It is clear that most hispanics are grateful to be in a country of "freedom". In return, the opportunity cost of the hispanics not living in the US, would be dealing with unsanitary water and unhealthy living conditions at other countries. It is a normative statement to say that they should not be begging, given their financial situation. Given the supply side, I believe that they are very tight within their family and always have a job for one another. For example, I know of a mexican restaurant that only hires within their family. Given the demand side, the hispanics are too hard working to even ask an American for a dime, when they know they are fortunate to be in America.

Ron Burr writes:

There are some sociological factors not being considered here. One is that if you are out of work and need to beg you might be illegal and don't want to increase exposure to police. From reading others of the replies, such as the one about the Catholic Church, and friends and family, safety nets, it seems there are too many variables to make much of the fact, if it is a fact, that there are fewer per capita Hispanic beggars.

Rick Stewart writes:

Ron Burr (finally) hits the nail on the head. Fear of deportation. Illegal aliens try to avoid being noticed by the police (just like drunk white drivers).

If one did the standard analysis (opportunity cost of begging vs working, % of population that is hispanic, IQ of hispanics vs other 'races,' etc.) I suspect 'chance of being deported' would dominate.

By the way, I live in Guatemala much of the year, and begging is common, but the beggars mostly leave me alone because, apparently, they don't think much is to be gained (they are correct).

Eduardo P.S. writes:

I am Eduardo Porras... Mexican, sales manager for a company in my country, educated in the city of Chihuahua and living in Monterrey, Mexico and with no intention of living, ever, in the U.S. (I visit the U.S. but that's all... I visit... I wouldn't live there...).

But, if I had to live in the U.S. it would be to live better,... if I get the same condition in the U.S. than the one I have in Mexico, I think it would be better to go back to my country.

I see that some people who wrote you (Brian) didn't understand what you were asking for. Obviously there are many Mexicans begging in Mexico, such as there are many Americans begging in the U.S. but, what you're asking about, is Hispanics begging in America, am I right?

If you don't see many of them, it's because they went to the U.S. to improve their lives, not to be in a worse situation than they had in their countries. And we (not me but my people) go there to work, not to ask you (Americans) for anything but a place to work, they just want to live better. Unfortunately, many of them can't do that (notice that "many of them" doesn't mean "all of them").

Most of us, here in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Cuba, etc. (whether we live in our countries or in the U.S.), work hard every day to improve our living style, not to ask other to help us, but to ask others to work together.

I hope you understand my point of view...

¡Saludos desde Chihuahua, México!

Eduardo Porras

Eduardo P.S. writes:

Sorry I posted twice... There was an error in my computer when I sent it and I clicked again in the "post" button...

My apologizes...

Eduardo Porras.

[I removed the duplicate for you, Eduardo.--Econlib Editor]

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